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Exclusive! Why Tulsi Gabbard doesn't want Hillary as Prez

By Aziz Haniffa
Last updated on: March 16, 2016 11:40 IST
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'A vote for Hillary means a vote for endless wars of trying to overthrow governments and rebuilding foreign countries.'
'A vote for Bernie Sanders means an end to these interventionist wars, and instead spending our money and precious resources rebuilding our own country,' Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the only Hindu-American in the United States Congress, tells Aziz Haniffa/

United States Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard abruptly quit her position as vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee last week and almost immediately endorsed Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont US Senator, who is challenging the frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Gabbard thereafter took to the television networks, including the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC and Jake Tapper's The Lead on CNN, to slam Clinton for being a war-monger and interventionist who is a proponent of regime change, adding to the unrelenting attacks she has waged for months against President Barack Obama for not calling out ISIS as 'Islamic terrorists.'

Clinton had never apologised for her vote in the US Senate, of which she was a member at the time, authorizing President George W Bush's war against Iraq and the toppling of Iraqi military ruler Saddam Hussein, Gabbard told Maddow.

Neera Tanden, a close adviser, friend and confidante to Clinton, told, "I have been a big fan of Tulsi's so I am really disappointed that she would criticise Hillary with arguments that are just wrong. Hillary has apologised for her vote on the Iraq war, she did so years ago. Of course, it is Tulsi's right to endorse anyone she likes, but I would hope it is with accurate facts in front of her."

In an exclusive e-mail interview with Aziz Haniffa/, Gabbard, a former Iraq war veteran, addresses her close ties with Indian government officials, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indo-US relations, the Indian-American community, and social media allegations, particularly by the social justice site, that she is an Islamophobe.

Apparently there's more than meets the eye, regarding your resignation as vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee and endorsing Sanders.

There are those who argue that it goes back to your rift with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz over the scheduling of debates etc, and your consequent marginalisation by Wassermen-Schultz?

My effort to encourage more debates in the Democratic primary had nothing to do with my decision to support Senator Sanders.

I am happy that there are now more debates and forums than were scheduled previously.

My sole reason for resigning as vice-chair was that the DNC's rules required I remain neutral through the Democratic primary.

Because of the stakes in this election, I no longer felt I could remain neutral.

On television shows you have been slamming Hillary as interventionist and advocating regime change, etc and warning that she will take the country to war if she is elected President.

During my first deployment to Iraq, I served in a medical unit where every single day I saw the real cost of war.

One of my jobs was to go over a list that named every single injury and casualty in the entire theatre of operations, to ensure that injured soldiers in our unit were either getting evacuated or receiving the in-country care they needed.

I am endorsing Senator Sanders because we need a commander in chief who will not just strongly go after the ISIS, Al Qaeda, and terrorist organisations that threaten the safety and security of the American people but who also knows that we need to stop engaging in interventionist wars of regime change such as the Iraq war, the Libyan overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, and the war to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria.

These wars of regime change have cost our country and the world dearly in human lives, untold suffering, and trillions of dollars.

These interventionist wars waste our limited resources, making it impossible to afford the programmes so sorely needed if we are to make real progress toward economic and gender equality, college education and health care available to all, rebuilding our nation's crumbling infrastructure, protecting our fragile environment, and so much more.

This Democratic primary presents a clear choice to voters.

A vote for Hillary means a vote for endless wars of trying to overthrow governments and rebuilding foreign countries.

A vote for Bernie Sanders means an end to these interventionist wars, and instead spending our money and precious resources rebuilding our own country.

With this clear choice in mind, I resigned as vice-chair of the DNC so that I could wholeheartedly support Sanders as the Democratic nominee for US President.

Has Senator Sanders acknowledged your endorsement?

Senator Sanders put out this statement on the day I announced my endorsement, saying, 'Congresswoman Gabbard is one of the important voices of a new generation of leaders. As a veteran of the Iraq war she understands the cost of war and is fighting to create a foreign policy that not only protects America but keeps us out of perpetual wars that we should not be in.'

IMAGE: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders speak simultaneously at the NBC News - YouTube Democratic Presidential candidates debate in Charleston, South Carolina, January 17, 2016. Photograph: Randall Hill/Reuters

On Rachel Maddow's show, you said Hillary had not even apologised for her vote authorising President Bush to wage war against Iraq and Saddam Hussein, but Neera Tanden told me that she had apologised.

Although Hillary has said that her support for the war in Iraq was a mistake, she never actually apologised to the families of the American troops who lost their lives and limbs, or to the American people for the trillions of dollars that were wasted in Iraq.

If Hillary actually felt genuine regret or had learned anything from her vote for the Iraq war, she would not have continued to advocate the same regime change policy of overthrowing secular dictators.

For example, she was the chief advocate and architect for attacking and overthrowing Gaddafi in Libya, which has caused tremendous suffering, turned Libya into a failed State, and a new stronghold for ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist organisations.

If Hillary had truly felt remorse for her vote in favor of US military action in Iraq to overthrow Saddam, she would not be the lead advocate for overthrowing the Syrian government of Assad, which has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, created millions of refugees, and strengthened ISIS and other Islamist extremists in the region.

Hillary has also made it very clear that she wants to escalate the counterproductive war to overthrow Assad, including instituting a so-called No-Fly Zone in Syria which Pentagon officials have said would be almost impossible to enforce.

Furthermore, such a direct confrontation with Russia would be catastrophic and possibly lead to nuclear war.

Before people vote, they need to understand what America's foreign policy would be with Hillary as our commander in chief.

If they don't want a continuation of these counterproductive wars of regime change, they should vote for Sanders.

What is your response to social media attacks against you, including by groups alleging that you are Islamophobic? Of fomenting fear or hatred against someone based upon religion?

I am a very firm believer in the Aloha spirit -- respect and love for everyone, irrespective of their religion, race, gender, or any other external differences.

In my view, the essence of religion means love for God and trying to serve God by working for the well-being of others.

The essence of the Hinduism that I practice is Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, which means to love God and all of His children, regardless of their race, religion, etc, and to use my life working for the well-being of everyone.

I do not see religion as something that involves different teams or an 'us versus them' mentality.

Whether we are Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, any other faith, or atheists, we are all children of God and we should love and respect each other as brothers and sisters.

You have continued to call out President Obama for not identifying ISIS as 'Islamic' and 'Islamic terrorists' and their ideology as 'Islamism.'

To be successful, the fight against terrorism must be both military and ideological.

Naturally, we will not be able to defeat ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist organisations militarily or ideologically if we do not understand what their ideology is.

An old military truism is that if you do not know your enemy, you cannot defeat your enemy.

This is why it is critical that we accurately define our enemy and its ideology.

The ideology shared by ISIS, Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist organizations is 'Islamism.'

Distinct from the religion of Islam, Islamism is a radical political ideology of violent jihad aimed at establishing a totalitarian society governed by laws based on a particular interpretation of Islam.

Tulsi Gabbard with Narendra Modi when the Indian prime minister visited the US in September 2014. Photograph: Mohammed Jaffer/SnapsIndia

IMAGE: Tulsi Gabbard with Narendra Modi when the Indian prime minister visited the US in September 2014. Photograph: Mohammed Jaffer/SnapsIndia

As one who sees everyone as a child of God, I do not like to see anyone attempt to incite hatred or fear of others because of their religion.

This is one reason why, as we discuss terrorist organisations and refer to those terrorists who are waging war against us, I am careful to use language and terms that clearly distinguish between religion and radical, political ideology.

Let me be clear, the political ideology of Islamism is not the same as Islam, the religion. The vast majority of Muslims who embrace Islam do not adhere to the political ideology of Islamism.

Like Mahatma Gandhi, I believe that we cannot overcome the divisive challenges facing our communities, our countries, and our world if we do not recognise and respect all others as children of God, despite our differences of nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, and so forth.

While religious discrimination sadly exists in democratic countries like the United States, Great Britain, or India, it is not enshrined in the Constitution and law. Therefore, discrimination in these democratic countries is an aberration, not the norm.

How important do you believe is the Indo-US Strategic Partnership, particularly since you are close to Prime Minister Modi?

It is very important that the world's two largest democracies -- India and America -- have good relations. That is why I was very happy to visit India at the invitation of Prime Minister Modi. I wanted to do whatever I could to strengthen the relationship between our countries.

Working together on everything from fighting terrorism to combating climate change to promoting renewable energy, and much more, India and the US can make the world a better place.

In my attempt to strengthen the relationship between India and America, I have no interest in siding with or favouring one Indian political party over another.

As a member of the US Congress, my interest is in helping cultivate a closer relationship between the US and India, not just between the US and one political party of India.

Both in India and here in the US, I have held meetings with members of both the BJP and the Congress party. I am known in America for being nonpartisan -- I successfully work with Democrats and Republicans alike to get things done for the people.

My feeling about politics in India is similarly nonpartisan.

As the only Hindu-American member in Congress, you are beloved in the Indian-American community, regularly felicitated, enjoy their unstinted support.

I have found that there are many Hindus in America who do not feel truly accepted for who they are, and feel that, in order to be accepted or succeed, they need to change their name to a 'Christian' name or in other ways hide or even change their religion.

So, when I took my oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita, many Hindus expressed how my actions have given them greater confidence to be open about the fact they are Hindus.

I was struck by a meeting I had with a teenage girl in Dallas who told me that she would always been embarrassed about being a Hindu, especially amongst her non-Hindu friends. But after learning about my election, seeing me taking the oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita, she no longer felt that way.

She said she felt like a great weight had been lifted off her shoulders -- that she can confidently pursue whatever goals she wants to in life without feeling she has to hide her religion or who she is.

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Aziz Haniffa